Cohousing is a community where people own their individual homes plus a share of common areas such as outdoor space and a clubhouse with kitchen, living and dining rooms. They typically prepare and share meals several times a week and become more than just neighbors.
They are usually structured as a condominium with a homeowners association, but are self-managed. Owners (called members) collectively make decisions, usually by consensus. Committees oversee the financial, administrative, maintenance and other work normally handled by a management company, although they may hire outsiders for some jobs. Each member is expected, and in some cases required, to pitch in, whether it’s cooking, cleaning or fixing the Wi-Fi.
Senior cohousing is a newer type designed for people who want to avoid the isolation that can happen when families move away and friends die. “There is a natural loss of community as you age. There is no way to replace it with jobs or schools,” said Christian Zimmerman, whose company developed Phoenix Commons, where he also lives.
JoAnna Allen called it “a great antidote to the loneliness that hits a lot of people.” She was familiar with cohousing, but her husband, Ken, was less gung ho. He came around “once he realized he could still have his privacy and independence,” she said.
There are 168 established cohousing communities in the United States including 14 that are senior-focused, said Karin Hoskin, executive director of the Cohousing Association of the U.S. None have been established in South Carolina yet.
Some of the senior communities have minimum age requirements; others don’t but end up with mostly seniors because they lack the space and amenities most families want. In California, senior housing developments generally can exclude residents younger than 55 if they have at least 35 units and meet other requirements.
When members get sick, other members usually will help with meals or trips to the doctor, but “this is independent living. There is nobody there to take care of you if you really need greater levels of care. We are very clear about that,” said Katie McCamant, owner of CoHousing Solutions, a development and consulting firm.
Owners can sell cohousing units to whomever they want as long as they don’t violate antidiscrimination laws. Buyers must meet age requirements in senior communities that have them.
Cohousing is “a peculiar market,” said Bob Miller, a member of Wolf Creek Lodge. Buyers “are not buying real estate. They are buying into a very special community. It’s not going to work for everybody.”
Prices at his 30-unit community range from $300,000 to $500,000. “For Grass Valley that’s not cheap,” he said. “It’s significant to buy in,” but ongoing expenses are “very economical.” Association fees run about $360 per month.
There’s no solid research on cohousing resale values, but in 2010, Davis appraiser Lee Bartholomew did a limited study looking at new and resale prices at five all-age cohousing communities in Northern California. Initially, they sold for more per square foot than standard condos, but they also have green-building features that add to construction costs and appeal to cohousing buyers. From 2008 through 2010, they appreciated faster than standard condos, he said.